The Leaderboard

Most Read: National

From the Blogosphere

Jena McGregor

Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Leadership Books
Posted at 01:38 PM ET, 01/05/2012

Cy Wakeman’s ‘Reality-Based Leadership’

Title: Reality-Based Leadership : Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, & Turn Excuses Into Results

Author: Cy Wakeman

Publisher: Jossey-Bass, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0470613504, 168 pages


Drama is emotionally expensive. Making up stories based on judgments about your circumstances is human nature, but those stories chew up time and energy and warp your decisions. Leadership consultant Cy Wakeman presents a simple but powerful process for clearing away blame, excuses and unenthusiastic performance. Much of Wakeman’s advice is common sense, in keeping with her “reality-based” outlook. She challenges commonly held beliefs about employee management, most notably the idea that the workplace is a democracy. getAbstract recommends her hard-nosed insights to leaders who are ready to conquer the drama.

Maybe it’s all in your head

Imagine yourself as an employee whose managers just promoted a co-worker who flattered the boss. You work harder, so you feel snubbed. In your mind, your workplace rewards political connections and ignores the people, like you, who contribute the most. But your conclusion is not “reality-based.” You live inside a story that you have created, and – like most other people – you act according to your beliefs, not the facts. Your emotional reactions to your workplace circumstances provide the raw material for your story about them.

“Nothing would get done around here if it weren’t for me,” “I’m underpaid for what I do” and “My co-workers don’t appreciate me” are all typical self-constructed narratives. But work’s not making you crazy, you are. Seeing things as they are is one thing and imbuing reality with meaning is another. When you judge other people’s motives and make assumptions about the causes and effects of their actions, you create an expensive productivity drain.

The most common stories that people make up star themselves in the role of victim. This “learned helplessness” limits their potential more than any external obstacle. People’s stories are familiar and make them feel safe, even if their tales also make them miserable. Blaming others for negative circumstances is an excuse for doing nothing about them. Modern workplace wisdom says that listening to employee complaints is important. But too much listening only magnifies and reinforces employees’ belief in learned helplessness. The antidote to the victim mind-set is “personal accountability.” Psychologists have found that perfection doesn’t lead to happiness; happiness derives from taking responsibility for what happens in your life.

Fact from fiction

Quit “arguing with reality.” Often the stories you believe are worse than the facts. Perhaps the sales office sent in a new order but neglected to include necessary information, so the order is incomplete. Missing data doesn’t have a hidden meaning; information is just facts. But you start thinking that the salespeople are too lazy to do their jobs and that you have to pick up their slack, and then your mood and mind-set sour. Motivated by anger, you’re likely to be unhelpful, unproductive and rude.

To determine what you believe, begin by listing the facts you know about the situation. Are the salespeople really lazy? They sold something, so somebody’s working. Who do you – as a manager or an employee – become in your story if you choose to believe it? If there is no story, how can you remedy the problem of the missing data? If you are convinced your story is right, you might send the order back to sales, delaying it. That means the customer will suffer for the sake of your self-satisfaction. Or you could deal with the facts, and not the story, by just calling the sales department to request the missing information. That’s a win-win outcome. Take your story out of the mix and what remains are the facts plus two questions: “How can I help?” and “What is the very next thing I can do to add value right now?”...

Click here to read on and receive a free summary of this book courtesy of getAbstract, the world's largest online library of business book summaries. (Available through January 19, 2011.)

Be in the know on everything we’re covering here at The Post’s On Leadership section. Follow us on Twitter (@post_lead) and “like” our page on Facebook (On Leadership at The Washington Post).

By Thomas Bergen and getAbstract  |  01:38 PM ET, 01/05/2012

Read what others are saying

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company